A fifth of the country’s population remain displaced internally or in neighbouring countries, such as Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo; 2.4 million others are in need of humanitarian aid, including food, shelter and health care.
Militias, adorned with swords and machetes and at times semi-automatics, control much of the country, except the capital, Bangui. At last estimate, there were 14 groups controlling 80% of the country. While Bangui remains under the ambit of law and order, the outside towns and villages are governed by different militia groups - each with competing motivations and agendas.
This has been the pattern of the past two years; different parts of the country have their turn to host renewed fighting and instability. The continuous movement of rebels has left the country in constant turmoil: the number of internally displaced persons has nearly doubled over the past year, reaching 694000.
Living conditions for civilians and children are growing worse; the rapid fermentation of this conflict into a cyclical pattern of violence has turned red-hot.
This conflict began when a Muslim-led armed group, the Seleka, took Bangui in a coup in 2013. Thirteen South African soldiers died defending then-president Francois Bozize during the battle for the city (why South African soldiers were in the CAR in the first place has never been fully explained).
The Seleka unleashed an assault on the Christian population, resulting in the formation of a rival group called the Anti-Balaka (Anti-Machete) who then responded to target and attack Muslims. This back story is only a strand in a larger story of violence in the CAR. The schism created between communities is deliberate and only the latest manifestation of a larger war; all sides are guilty. This is a country that has long endured conflict over resources - such as land, minerals, livestock - that has its roots in colonialism, weak governance and as is normal with former French colonies - heaps of foreign interference.
Meanwhile, ordinary farmers, cattle herders, traders, students and teachers are struggling with inordinate dysfunctionality. Schools have become hideouts for militia, toilets for the displaced. In those villages where teachers have fled out of fear, worried parents have taken crash courses and become the educators.
Last month, the UN announced that funding for the humanitarian response had declined over the past three years. “We need to act now to prevent a further deterioration which would require much more resources to address and could seriously impact the stability and the security of the whole Central African region,” under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief co-ordinator, Ursula Mueller, said.
But these words come almost a year after Christine Muhigana, Unicef’s representative in the CAR, said that the world “cannot allow the Central African Republic to become a forgotten crisis”. And 18 months after the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator for the CAR Fabrizio Hochschild said: “There is an urgent need to break the cycle of violence, which is characterised as something of the past, especially as the Central African Republic prepares to launch its recovery and stabilisation plan.” As normal, when it comes to the CAR, no one is listening.
The UN’s Humanitarian Response Plan for 2017 was only 39% funded.
If the international community is unable to come to the fore to assist on the humanitarian front, it is time to acknowledge that solving the crisis and rebuilding this society is no one’s priority.
It is also time for the UN to acknowledge that its efforts to consolidate peace and security in the country have not worked.The country might have held elections in 2016, but outside the capital, this government has little to no control over the people. Faustin-Archange Touadera is the president of a country run by the UN and international NGOs, which is undeniably part of the problem.
Then there is the difficult process of disarming militia. Armed groups have simply no incentive to give up their weapons and re-enter civilian life. There are few peacebuilding efforts, especially in a society in which both civilians and militia know that the UN Mission (Minusca) is geared primarily in the country to keep the installed government safe.
The UN might say that civilians are important, but right now, keeping Bangui intact is their primary concern. Then there is the reputation of UN peacekeepers who are not held in high esteem by some militia groups or even the civilian population. The UN cannot continue to pretend that the civilian population holds no grudges for the constant stream of incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse that continue to take place at the hands of peacekeepers.
But blaming the UN as a body is not useful. Their failure as a body has been documented for years. The UN has always been at the mercy of its biggest donors (or bullies) in the Security Council.
The real culprits here remain France (which exerts tremendous power over its former colonies), the CAR’s immediate neighbours (who have demonstrated much reason to keep the CAR in disarray for selfish reasons) and the AU (for being mostly useless).
Earlier this month, members of the AU travelled to the CAR on a conflict-tour. The AU donated $100000 (R1.16 million) towards alleviating the CAR’s humanitarian crisis. If divided by the 55 states that make up the AU, this means a $1800 contribution per country.
This is a damning indictment on the AU. Five years later and still no African solutions.
* Azad Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founder of The Daily Vox.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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